Saturday, June 16, 2007

More cooking than you can shake a stick at: Hell's Kitchen/Top Chef roundup

In every person's extended family there exists at least one black sheep. It's with this in mind that I like to watch the culinary shows on the TV, as I can only imagine that this is how "high-brow" cooking shows like Top Chef feel about cooking's bastard child, Hell's Kitchen.

To be honest, I love both of these shows madly, as they seem to speak to two wholly different portions of my psyche. Top Chef to my more refined and cultured side (and yes, I understand the irony of my cultured appetite being sated by a televised competitive cooking show) and Hell's Kitchen to my rubbernecking, ambulance-chasing, schadenfreude side.

Well, to each his own. With that said, that's ultimately why we decided to combine our summer round-ups of these shows into one big revue, since absurdity loves company and no one loves food like I love food.

Top Chef made its season 3 summer debut with an hour and fifteen minute premiere Wednesday night. I can understand the impulse to overstuff the premiere, but the extra time in this episode felt superfluous. This is quite a trick with early episodes of reality programming, as there are generally so many contestants you have little-to-no idea who's who or what, exactly, is happening.

So ultimately, I guess it's a compliment to Bravo that I knew exactly what was going on and thus didn't need the extra 15 minutes. Which also messed up my DVR. So thanks.

Anyway, TC started with a quickfire challenge in which the contestants were tasked with making an amuse bouche (a TC fave) from the multi-table appetizer spread they'd been going to town on. This was entertaining to watch as it always amuses me to see overly made up women competing in high heels, clip-clopping around like so many show ponies, and the chefs completed the assignment with moderate degrees of success. Micah won this challenge, which won her immunity and, as luck would have it, obscurity for the rest of the episode.

The elimination challenge for the episode was about as Fear Factor as this show can get, featuring a slew of unusual proteins for the contestants to cook with, though not the one I was rooting for. The choices ranged from the obviously delicious buffalo steak to the shudder-inducing rattlesnake.

Amusing as this was, the loser was seemingly inevitable; Clay, introduced earlier in the episode as a guy following in his father's restarauranting footsteps, though, as a side note, his dad commited suicide, got the boot. Lovely.

Beyond that Clay's homestyle southern cooking was less than impressive, while Tre and Hung shone with innovative dishes. Tre was ultimately the winner resulting in the prize of . . . I can't remember. Oh right, a big stack of guest judge Anthony Bourdain's book. Joy.

Meanwhile, this week's Hell's Kitchen was as entertaining and inexplicable as ever, beginning with the contestants being summoned in the wee hours of the morning and screamed at by Chef Ramsey for being so wasteful in the kitchen the night before. Their punishment? They have to catch frozen fish that are thrown at them from the back of a truck. So . . . apt . . . I guess?

Anyway, after this exercise in futility, the chefs are forced to satisfactorily prep as many fish as possible within 30 minutes. It's at this point that Aaron started weeping for the first time this episode, claiming to be dizzy and subsequently went to sleep while everyone else competed. Classy. The women won the competition and were rewarded with a fishing trip with Chef Ramsey which was just as inexplicable as it sounds.

Aaron was then tasked to debone the fish, tableside, at dinner service which was just as much of a disaster as one can imagine. All things considered, the men's team was hapless, eventually being kicked out of the kitchen, leaving the somewhat more competant woment to complete the dinner service for both teams.

As one can imagine, the men were found to be the losing team and Rock, the best of the rest, as it were was responsible for deciding who would be on the chopping block for the men. As a complete shocker, and I imagine, with some pressure placed by the Fox execs, hapless Aaron was spared from consideration and vaguely competant Josh and hopeless Eddie were hung out to dry. In what was really no contest whatsoever, it was Eddie that was sent home.

So ends another week of culinary review!

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